Tag Archives: Marvel Universe(s)

X-Men (2000)

"What did you expect...a group shot full of action? Go back to your Rob Leifeld comics, you posers,"
“What did you expect…a group shot full of action? Go back to your Rob Leifeld comics then, you posers,”

Now here’s a case study in adaption, a simultaneous example of how to successfully make a comic book movie and how to cock it up even as you’re supposedly doing “right” by both your fans and your studio backers. An unqualified box office success, X-Men ignited what I’ve come to call the Silver Age of Comic Book Movies, inaugurating trends and best practices that hamstring the genre to this day, despite elevating superhero flicks up to a level of respectability they’d never previously enjoyed…save, perhaps, for about a minute and a half there, after Tim Burton’s Batman.

Batman was a filmmaker’s film by a man who’s gone on to admit he’s never read a comic book in his life. (“Which,” as Kevin Smith put it, “explains Batman.”) At least X-Men‘s Bryan Singer had the good since to claim making his “comic book” movie helped him see the light. Before this, Singer was known for one decent thriller (Unusual Suspects) and one half-decent Stephen King adaption (Apt Pupil). Seeking to do a sci-fi picture, he nonetheless turned X-Men down three times…until producer Avi Arad convinced him to actually read the damn books…and watch some of the wonderful animated series Arad brought to Fox Kids for five season’s in the 90s. Continue reading X-Men (2000)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Rhode Island Red
Tony, sporting the Rhode Island Red

Given that Iron Man 2‘s already a Designated Hit of the Year, nothing I can say will make the least bit of impact on the film’s bottom line. I find that rather freeing, because I don’t have to pretend the film is some amazing stand-out example of its genre. It’s not bad, but it’s still a fuzzy-headed rehash of tropes that should be familiar to anyone who’s watched a superhero sequel. The Villain Hypertrophy, the mawkish sentiment, the origin of A Sidekick, the Hero striving against his Fate, trying to shore up his Legacy against Death’s inevitable encroachment while simultaneously learning how to play well with others – it’s all here. And it’s all so mind-numbingly safe I had to slap myself with a Netflix envelope just to recall why I was here. Continue reading Iron Man 2 (2010)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Bromance! 2007It’s amazing how unmemorable a film like this can be. Twenty-four hours and it vanishes from your mind like a bad dream. Oh, to wake in a world where Marvel Studios did not chose to produce Fantastic Four films in conjunction with 20th Century Fox.

At once flagrantly pandering and incoherently pretentious, Rise of the Silver Surfer is undeniably worse than its prequel. All thanks to production logic that threw aesthetics under the bus in favor of expediency and marketing tie-ins. Got to crank them out quick before the marks get wise, see? And we are getting wise, though the general mass (who still, even after all this, refuse to read comic books) continues to throw cash at whatever crap’s offered us. And so it goes. {More}

Fantastic Four (2005)

Strike a pose! It's all you're really here for.I’ll be honest with you: I never gave a toss about the Fantastic Four. I know that’s heresy to a certain number of nerds and I don’t care. Their family comradeship, good natured bickering, and overriding message of wholesomeness never sat well with me. Like Pizza Hut pizza, its initial beguiling flavor disguises stomach-churning ookiness. Leave it to Hollywood to pick out the Four’s most nausea-inducing elements and assemble them into an annoyingly bland film.

Credit where it’s due: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revolutionized the superhero team back in the 1960s, elevating the genre to a new era of psychological realism…even as they stuffed it with  alien invasions, world-conquering dictators, and evil siblings/parents/college roommates inexplicably returned from the dead. For my money, Lee and Kirby did a much better job of dysfunctional superhero family-creation two years later, when they used what two years of churning out comics had taught them to create the original X-Men{More}

Hulk Vs. (2009)

Lionsgate Entertainment and Marvel Comics have quite the partnership going on. Hoping to tide us over between summer blockbuster seasons, the (I don’t quite feel right about calling them “dynamic”) duo of media conglomerates have put out a steady stream of direct-to-DVD cartoon features starring Marvel’s heaviest-hitting heroes. I’ve already spoken about Ultimate Avengers. The fact that I’ve seen it’s sequel, along with the animated Iron Man, and was not impressed enough to write either of them up, should tell you all you need to know about those two. You can understand why I went into tonight’s subject with a mixture of high hopes and lowered expectations.

My love for the Hulk knows few bounds, and I’ve been disappointed by most of his live-action outings. I’ll defend Ang Lee’s Hulk until the day I’m forced to save humanity from the despotic rule of my power-mad future-self, but last year’s Incredible Hulk left me cold. Desperate, I once again looked to Ultimate Avengers and the 1970s Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno live action show for my genuine Bruce Banner fix.

I still do. {More}

Iron Man (2008)

In another unexpectedly pleasant surprise, Iron Man turned out to be perhaps the strongest of this passing summer’s superhero movies. I say “perhaps” because, while it lacks The Dark Knight‘s length and The Incredible Hulk‘s emotional sequel-baggage, Iron Man never rises to anything other than the low-tide line of my expectations. Movies are like that these days. I’m spoiled. We’ve all become spoiled by the expectation of eye-gouging special effects. I’ve believed a man could fly all my life; seeing it no longer impresses me. Much.

This movie impressed me…but not with its showy, summer-movie action scenes. No. Instead, Iron Man outflanked me, scaling the battlements of my cold, critic’s heart by reminding me why I used to drag my ass out of bed a six a.m. on a Sunday morning to watch the Iron Man cartoon that played on the Fox affiliate of my youth. Why, in other words, I liked Iron Man in the first place. {More}

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I’ll say this: it was better than I expected…if only because my expectations were so low. This sequel was long in coming, and all its flaws flow from the fact that no one (apart from me, it seems) enjoyed its predecessor.

Well, I hope you’re all happy. This movie is, in almost every way, a repudiation of Ang Lee’s Hulk, a one-eighty degree turn that falls all over itself to push all our Pavlovian buttons and make us squeal. Like a pile of red meat delivered to your door, it looks good but it’ll plug you up like a clogged septic tank, stuffing you with meaningless noise, flashing lights and disjointed images…much like the way Dr. Bruce Banner describes his experience as the Hulk: “It’s like someone poured ten gallons of acid into my brain.” I don’t know who Bruce is getting it from. Around these parts, you can get the same effect with a fraction of that dosage. Costs about as much as a movie ticket anyway (less if your date wants popcorn–mine, fortunately, did not) and you can enjoy it in the privacy of your own home, away from other people’s children, comments, loud laughter, and ill-timed cellphone usage. {More}

Ultimate Avengers (2006)

Yeah, guy wearing a flag into battle. That's not an easy target.
Yeah, guy wearing a flag into battle. That's not an easy target.

Best to begin this with what Ultimate Avengers is not. It’s not the movie I’d hoped it would be. What is these days, right? It’s not a shot-by-shot recreation of the similarly named, and much more thematically complicated Mark Millar/Bryan Hitch comic book miniseries upon which it is based. It’s not necessarily a major milestone in American animation. (No Fritz the Cat’s here, folks, keep walking.) It is not Marvel’s answer to Paul Dini’s spectacular Justice League series, which did more with more characters, smaller budgets, and the Ever Present Eye of Cartoon Network’s Standards and Practices.

Ultimate Avengers is not a great movie at all…and it shakes and shutters on the cusp of being good. By any objective or technical measure it’s not really that, either. The reasons why become quickly apparent. But first: plot synopsis.

Ultimate Avengers opens (like so much else in the Marvel Universe) during the winningest days of World War II. Hitler is dead, his armies in retreat, Germany safely carpet-bombed back to the Middle Ages. “But what,” asks the radio announcer, “are these rumors of a secret Nazi super weapon aimed at Washington? Categorically false, says the War [nee, Defense] Department. And we believe them!” {More}

Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)

''Was that you, George?''Short and sweet version:

The defining, stand out scene of this whole movie (the one we all get our pictures from) turns out to be a dream sequence.

Long and painful version:

Remember when I called The Incredible Hulk Returns “a fine capstone” to the series? Well, that was the truth. It’s unfortunate no one at NBC realized this in time. Not very surprising, though. Happens everywhere. A decent little picture miraculously becomes popular (popular enough to snatch the fifth highest rating of any program aired in the same week) only to be sullied by a lackluster, assembly-line sequel.

Hot off the success of Returns, NBC rushed to make a deal with Marvel for future Incredible Hulk outings. And, wouldn’t you know it, less than a year later Trial of the Incredible Hulk roared and flexed its way to prime time. And as the talking head said on the news, right before the aliens blew up all those cities, “Indeed, God help us all.” {More}

X2: X-Men United (2003)

"Well...are you coming?"
"Well...you coming? You do have a movie to star in, you know?"

I went into this farce with no expectations.  In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a natural pessimist. So much of a pessimist I was prepared to write X2 off completely, like all the idiots I criticize for the blatant hypocrisy inherent in their dismissal “comic book movies.” Then the maintenance man comes by at nine in the morning, screwing my sleep schedule all to hell. And he tells me I should see this movie. It apparently “kicked serious ass.”

So off I go to Target. Twenty minutes, two cigs and one neutered anti-theft device later, I returned the proud (if ambivalent) owner of X2, second in what will no doubt be the epic superhero movie trilogy to end all epic superhero movie trilogies. For, like, ever.

As if. I say “ambivalent” whenever I’m faced with something like this…like almost any movie from the summer of ’03…with one notable exception…something that makes me feel anything but united. I love glitz and glamor as much as the next Red Blooded American Male, but I’m getting mighty tired of leaving a movie feeling hollow and gypped. After all, didn’t they used to make movies with something more than a few hundred million dollars of special effects? Something that engaged its audience? That challenged us? Was that just a dream? I swear they were still doing it a few years ago… {More}